Bushfire complacency puts locals at risk

The ACT Rural Fire Service conducting a hazard reduction burn at Farrer. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
The ACT Rural Fire Service conducting a hazard reduction burn at Farrer. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Firefighters have spoken out about the lack of preparation for dangerous fire conditions, just 12 months after multiple blazes blackened properties across south east NSW.

Authorities have put a total fire ban in place throughout the ACT, Queanbeyan, Yass Valley and Goulburn regions for Thursday as heatwave conditions persist.

Devastating fires burnt through thousands of hectares across the Canberra region amid similar temperatures in January 2013, killing more than 10,000 sheep and cattle.

Despite the extensive damage and substantial grass growth throughout the region, Fred Nichols from the Cooma Rural Fire Service said the majority of locals remained complacent.

“People haven’t prepared and haven’t prepared enough,” he said.

“All we’re asking for is for people to remove the fuel load from around houses.”

His comments come as firefighters continue to battle hundreds of blazes across Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, including a 6500 hectare fire near Horsham.

In addition to total fire bans throughout the ACT and surrounds, bans are also in place for Kosciuszko and Brindabella National Parks and Brindabella State Conservation Area.

Authorities were warning that conditions on Thursday meant fires could be uncontrollable, including flames potentially higher than rooftops.

Residents have been warned of the dangers, but Mr Nichols said concerns remained over lack of awareness throughout the Cooma and capital region.

“My main concern is people actually lighting fires through negligence,” he said.

“People have to realise that after 9am they shouldn’t be on slashers or ride on mowers. It doesn’t take long for a spark to get out into the bush… Especially between Cooma and Canberra, it would take the tiniest little fire to get things going.”

Mr Nichols said one crew remained onsite at the 21 hectare blaze in the Kybeyan Valley, located approximately 15km south of where fires burnt 12 months ago, while 800 volunteers in Queanbeyan had moved into standby mode.

Tom Carroll from the Queanbeyan RFS said fire activity had been minimal throughout the region, where varying levels of preparedness had been put in place.

“There are lots of properties with long dead grass in people’s yards near their homes and that concerns me,” he said.

In the ACT, Minister for Police and Emergency Services Simon Corbell warned that the capital was “primed for fire” and urged residents to watch out for arson activity.

”We are seeing too many fires that appear to be deliberately lit,” he said.

“We need neighbours, particularly those who live close to grasslands and reserves, to keep an eye out.”

In the ACT, firefighters have attended multiple grass fires – they followed a statement from Minister for Police and Emergency Services Simon Corbell that the capital was ‘‘primed for fire’’.

Crews were called to a blaze along Lady Denman Drive soon after midday on Wednesday.

Multiple units from  ACT RFS and ACT Fire and Rescue attended the blaze, which burnt about 5000 square metres near the National Zoo and Aquarium, while  firefighters also extinguished a small blaze in Kingston.

Volunteers had been carrying out backburns in preparation for dangerous conditions and residents have put substantial personal measures in place, chief officer of the ACT RFS Andrew Stark said.

‘‘We see great awareness of bushfires in the ACT,’’ he said.

Territory and Municipal Services has closed several nature reserves and roads because of the total fire ban, including Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, Kowen Forest and the Lower Molonglo River Corridor.

Selected roads within Namadgi National Park will be closed to public access, along with Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary and the section of the Centenary Trail between the sanctuary and Hall.

Temperatures in Canberra are expected to remain in the high 30s this week before dropping to a high of 30 degrees on Sunday.

This story Bushfire complacency puts locals at risk first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.